Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount's college football career ends with a punch

Sunday, September 6, 2009

LeGarrette Blount on opening day.
Image: Alex McDougall.

University of Oregon football's star running back, LeGarrette Blount, was suspended for the remainder of the season – and thereby the remainder of his college football career – after punching an opposing player after the opening game.

The University of Oregon Ducks opened their 2009 season with a 19–8 loss to rival Boise State Broncos. The high-profile game was nationally televised on the ESPN network. The Broncos, whose "mid-major" Western Athletic Conference is less competitive than the Ducks' Pac-10 Conference, had previously defeated the Ducks in 2008. Prior to the game, Blount was quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying the Ducks "owe [the Broncos] an ass-whuppin’" for the late hits delivered in the 2008 game. The volatile Blount, coming off a 1,000+ yard season in which he broke a school record for rushing touchdowns, had struggled in several 2008 games, including the encounter with the Broncos.

The Broncos, however, won 19–8 in their home field; and Blount and Oregon's offense failed to achieve a single first down for the game's first 37 minutes.

A few seconds after the end of the game, Boise State defensive end Byron Hout taunted Blount and pushed him on the shoulder pad. Broncos Head Coach Chris Petersen attempted to restrain Hout. But Blount responded with a swift punch to the jaw, knocking Hout to the ground. Hout was not publicly disciplined for his actions. Blount then pushed teammate Garrett Embry, who was attempting to restrain him. Boise State replayed the punch on their large screen in the end-zone multiple times, before Blount had returned to the locker room.

As he was escorted to the locker room, Blount confronted jeering Boise State fans. Two police officers and Oregon assistant coach Scott Frost restrained Blount and escorted him into the locker room. Video of the incident spread rapidly on the Internet.

Blount apologized after the incident, saying: "I just apologize to everybody that was watching this — ESPN, national TV — I just apologize to all of our fans, all the Boise fans. It was just something that I shouldn't have done. I lost my head, and I shouldn't have taken it that far." Coach Chip Kelly suspended Blount for the remainder of the 2009 season. Blount was not dismissed from the team, however, and will be permitted to attend practice and retain his scholarship.

[The Ducks] owe [the Broncos] an ass-whuppin’

—LeGarrette Blount, before the game

The incident was seen an important test for a leadership team in its first year. According to Oregon Athletic Director Mike Bellotti, the fact that the incident occurred after the game's conclusion made it the team's responsibility, rather than a Pac-10 issue. Kelly, Bellotti, and University of Oregon President Lariviere had each just entered the first year of his position. Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott, also in his first year, was in attendance at the game. He consulted with Oregon officials in advance of Blount's suspension, and afterward, the Pac-10 expressed complete support for the suspension, while declining to comment on the Broncos, who are not part of the Pac-10.

As a result of his negative rushing total (-5 yards) in the one game he played in the 2009 season prior to the suspension, combined with 1,002 yards in 2008, Blount holds the unusual distinction of having a 1,000-yard season with the Ducks, but less than 1,000 yards over his entire NCAA career.